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February 27, 2009

State Dept. official Richard Schmierer cites improvements in Iraq despite “tragic” war

[img id="77359" align="alignleft"] Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Richard Schmierer addressed the future of United States policy toward Iraq in a talk at the Harris School Thursday. Schmierer drew from his own diplomatic experience, including his travels in Baghdad, while addressing a crowd of about 30 students.

Despite continuing security and infrastructural concerns in Iraq, Schmierer highlighted areas of significant improvement. He referenced Iraq’s efforts to establish foreign embassies, as well as Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammed Al-Sabah’s recent visit to Baghdad. Schmierer called the latter development particularly symbolic, because Al-Sabah is the highest-ranking diplomat to visit Baghdad since Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

“We diplomats are going to be in Iraq forever,” Schmierer said. “But the security relationship with Iraq will evolve.”

In the latter portion of the talk, Schmierer opened the floor to questions. Students asked about possibilities for diversifying Iraq’s industry away from an oil-based economy, and to what extent Iraqi citizens still favor the United States’ military presence.

In his answers, Schmierer readily acknowledged the difficulties of the situation on the ground in Iraq.

“The whole experience for us and for Iraqis from the time that Saddam fell has been a very difficult, very trying experience,” Schmierer said in an interview following the talk. “I can only interpret that people’s own experiences and expectations have led them to wonder, ‘Did it have to be this difficult?’”

However, Schmierer remained optimistic with regards to Iraq’s political and economic future, citing the restoration of basic accountability to all levels of Iraqi government, as well as the greater availability of educational opportunities and vocational training for citizens.

“To a certain extent [the war] has been tragic to individuals, and tragic in general, but it’s important to keep an eye on the ultimate outcome people wish to see,” he said. “And that’s the kind of Iraq that I was trying to describe in my talk.”

Schmierer emphasized that the Iraqi government’s accountability would lend itself to much further progress in equitably improving national defense, food distribution, and infrastructure.

“If it’s clear that someone’s not getting a fair shake, their leaders will definitely pay the price,” Schmierer said. “People will make sure they engage with the proper national-level leaders to ensure they get their fair share, because otherwise, they’re going to be voted out of power.”

Schmierer ended his speech by encouraging Harris School students to consider joining the State Department.

“We are expanding,” Schmierer said. “I know the President strongly supports our efforts, and Secretary Clinton is a tremendous advocate, both for the civil service and the foreign service.”

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